Friday, January 27, 2006

Blog bathos: A postmodern Super Bowl XL

It’s metrosexuals vs. übersexuals!

Those of you who know me know that I don’t shy away from quality trash-talking when playing sports. For better or for worse, I enjoy the give and take of sports banter…the glee of getting inside an opponent’s head, and the joy of ultimate victory, lol.

And for this Super Bowl, I’m taking trash-talking to a new level, kinda by accident! One Pittsburgh guy called Seattle running back Shaun Alexander a “metrosexual.” And I looked again, and sure enough, it was true – and I laughed…and then an even funnier thought struck me: This game between Seattle and Pittsburgh is like metrosexuals vs. übersexuals!

So what is a metro and what is an über?

These are totally postmodern words, so hang on, lol.

A metrosexual is a feminized man who spends as much time in front of the mirror his girlfriend, or more. The word actually means “cosmopolitan sexuality,” and signifies a man who considers himself pretty and acts accordingly…with undefined sexuality.

An übersexual is a throwback man, a man perhaps comfortable with classy styles but not bound by them, a man who knows how to be a gentleman without being feminized. The word actually means “ultimate or best sexuality,” and represents a man who can chop wood, navigate a woodland trail, and yet escort his wife/girl to a formal dinner that evening – with complete class.

How to tell a metro from an übersexual

If you are still confused, here is a handy list for telling the difference:

  • Both are passionate, but the über is passionate about causes and principles, while the metro is mostly passionate about himself
  • The über spends more time grooming his mind than his hair
  • Both treat and respect women as equals, but the über considers other men, not women, his best friends
  • The über is more sensual and not at all self-conscious; he doesn't need other people to tell him he's sexy -- nor does he plan his errands around which shop windows offer the best reflection
  • The metro gets design tips from the Fab Five, the design gurus for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; the über gets them from his travels and interest in art and culture
  • The über knows the difference between right and wrong and will make the right decision regardless of what others around him may think; the metro knows the difference between toner and exfoliant -- and worries that he's using yesterday's brand.

Marian Salzman, who first spotted the rise of the metrosexual two years ago, says that übersexuals are tired of taking their behavioral and fashion cues from their female counterparts and from men's magazines that boil men down to their basest, most simplistic selves.

"Übersexuals are the most attractive (not just physically), most dynamic, and most compelling men of their generations. They are confident, masculine, stylish, and committed to uncompromising quality in all areas of life."

Still confused?

If so, here are some helpful illustrations:

Übersexual: Bono

Metrosexuals: Kerry, Edwards

Perhaps you'll remember John Kerry, during the last presidential campaign, proudly calling himself a metrosexual. And, you know, for once he was exactly right! The perfect illustration of metro, lol.

And, with that knowledge, it's time to analyze Super Bowl XL!

Predicting the winner with a postmodern calculus

It’s the greatest clash on the biggest stage: Super Bowl XL, the metrosexual Seahawks vs. the übersexual Steelers!

Am I being unfair? Hmmm…break down the individual comparisons:

  • Quarterback: Matt “check out my shaved head” Hasselbeck or Ben “Caveman Beard” Roethlisberger?
  • Running Back: Shaun “Mr. Metro in tights” Alexander or Jerome “the Bus” Bettis?
  • Safety: Jordan “just call me Jordi” Babineaux or Troy “Wild-man” Polamalu?
  • Wide Receiver: Joe “My mother calls me Joey” Jurevicius or Hines “Mr. Toughness” Ward?
  • Linebacker: Lofa “It’s not Lola!” Tatupu or Joey “Take out the Trash” Porter?
  • And finally, coach: Mike “Mr. Latte” Holmgren or Bill “the Chin” Cowher?

LOL! How is it even close?

Cowher and the boys just ooze Steel City masculinity. It’s blue-collar steel mills against trendy coffee shops and fashion shows. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a good mocha frappuccino now and then, but we’re talking football here!

When it comes to football, the übers win the day. This ain’t no catwalk folks, lol! And so the über Steelers will win the first postmodern super bowl, without question.

Final spread which you can bank on:

Pittsburgh by 13 points.

You read it here first, lol. Just don’t tell anyone how you discovered the winner ahead of time, lol!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Women deserve better than abortion II

It is normal to grieve a pregnancy loss, including the loss of a child by abortion. It can form a hole in one’s heart, a hole so deep that sometimes it seems nothing can fill the emptiness.

Project Rachel

Women as victims of abortion

I was the only guy in the salon, and the topic turned to abortion. The woman cutting my hair asked,

“What do you think of abortion?”

The salon grew silent. Several pairs of eyes turned my way, waiting my answer.

“It makes me sad,” I answered. “It makes me sad for the children who will not see the light of day, and never add their laughter to our needy world.” “And, it really makes me sad for the women involved, they are silent victims too.”

“You say the women are victims?” “You mean the women having the abortions?” my stylist asked.

“Yes, they are victims,” I said. “On several levels – often women are pressured to lose a child in order to keep a relationship. And, how sad is it that our society defines success in a way that pressures women to destroy a part of themselves?”

“And, then…women end up victims on the other end of abortion, as very few are told the consequences to their bodies and minds.”

“They aren’t told about the cancer risk or Post-Abortion Syndrome…” “They aren’t told about the mental and spiritual trauma, which they end up carrying in their hearts – unseen trauma, real victims.”

“And this makes me sad,” I said.

The silence echoed for awhile in the salon.

The one of the women said, “I wish more men thought like you.”

Another said, “Two of my friends have had abortions, and what you say is true…”

The rest of the women agreed. There was a collective sigh, and some of the tension ran out of the room. There was comfort in the fact that I was for the women, while still being against abortion. They hadn’t heard it expressed like that.

Chances were I was speaking to at least one girl that day that had had an abortion. Everyone there knew someone who had.

It was a moment to share the love of Christ in a way that was true, and yet gave light…offering hope to hurting hearts.

And it brings up the issue of abortion’s silent toll on women.

The pressure of abortion

A study of 252 [abortive] women who suffered psychological sequelae reported that

  • 53 percent felt "forced" into the abortion by others;
  • 65 percent felt "forced" by their circumstances;
  • only 33 percent felt "free" to make their own decisions;
  • 83 percent stated they would have kept the pregnancy if they had been encouraged to do so by one or more other persons; and,
  • 84 percent would have kept the pregnancy under "better circumstances.”

The self-betrayal of abortion

Many women talk about the internal conflict that takes place in abortion: their maternal instinct wars against the rationalization of abortion, and creates an inner context of dysfunction.

In the vast majority of cases, women seeking abortion feel under intense pressure to do so. Yet at the same time they experience moral qualms about abortion itself, and/or they feel maternal desires to protect their pregnancies. Therefore, for these women, abortion is not a glorious right by which they are able to reclaim control of their lives; instead it is an “evil necessity” to which they submit because they “have no choice.”

Rather than affirming their own values, these women feel forced to compromise their values. Rather than feeling proud of themselves for standing up against difficult situations, they feel ashamed of themselves for being “spineless cowards.”

This feeling of self-betrayal is a devastating blow to the woman's self-image and her feelings of self-worth. She is internally divided by an emotional "war" within and against herself. On one side are her original moral beliefs and maternal desires. On the other side is her abortion experience which represents a choice to act against those feelings. These two sides of herself are irreconcilable. The unresolved feelings which arise from this internal warfare can manifest themselves as a wide variety of psychological illnesses. [1]

Immediately following an abortion, researchers have found one positive emotion – that of relief. And, this is understandable in light of the pressure that forced the abortion in the first place. However, temporary feelings of relief are frequently followed by what psychiatrists describe as emotional paralysis, or post-abortion numbness. [2]

Like shell-shocked soldiers, these aborted women are unable to express or even feel their own emotions. Their focus is primarily on having survived the ordeal, and they may be, at least temporarily, out of touch with their feelings.

Studies within the first few weeks after the abortion have found that between 40 and 60 percent of the women questioned reporting at least some negative reactions. In one study of 500 [abortive] women, researchers found that 50 percent expressed negative feelings, and up to 10 percent were classified as having developed “serious psychiatric complications.”

These women develop the symptoms of deep grief, internalizing the trauma. Often it surfaces in intimate relationships to self and others: denial, sexual dysfunction, detachment, desire for another pregnancy, promiscuity, distrust of males, brief reactive psychosis, guilt, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, survival guilt, thoughts of suicide, and psychological numbing.

And this only the psychological aftermath, not mentioning the potential physical risks!

Is it any wonder then, that women are called real victims in abortion?

Truly it is said that women deserve better than abortion. They deserve better than the war against their own personhood, euphemistically called “freedom of choice” by media brokers. They deserve better than being pressured into “solutions” that denigrate the fabric of their own souls. They deserve better than placing their bodies at risk under the advertising of “owning their own bodies.”

There is a holocaust of women taking place in America. 45 million aborted children and counting…and this means 45 million women who are dealing with silent devastation of their personhood and relationships.

There is hope, though. Our Lord still sits by the well at noonday and offers valued personhood and future grace. He still gives water that quenches inner thirst!

Will you love a woman in your life by speaking to her these words of truth and hope?

You may save a life…in more ways than one.

God bless all of you who need this message of hope!



David C. Reardon, “
Women at Risk of Post-Abortion Trauma.”

Feminists for Life

Project Rachel

Ramah International

Article on Post-Abortion Syndrome

Silent No More Awareness Campaign

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl!

AFC Championship game

Score: Pittsburgh 34, Denver 17

Another great game from the guys in black and gold! In some respects this game impressed me more than the effort against the Colts. Pittsburgh played a complete game on both sides of the ball against a very tough Denver team. I must confess that Denver had me worried, lol. They’ve been defensively tough all year long…knocking out the best offensive teams they’ve faced. But today was just Pittsburgh’s day. They played inspired ball, again.

And, I really don’t think enough good things can be said about Ken “the Whiz” Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator of the Steelers. Wow! What a game plan! He was two steps ahead of Shanahan and the Broncos…and that is no small task. Shanahan is no slouch in big game acumen [or offensive genius]. If this game doesn’t land Ken a gig as head coach, I don’t think anything will. I hope he stays with the Steelers, but if he does, they need to give him a pay raise!

Great game, though. And solid execution on both sides of the ball for Pittsburgh, especially offense – some excellent third down calls. And, some excellent plays for first downs and TDs. Ben performed really well today…and a lot of credit goes to the offensive line. Wow, did they ever pick up the blitz! Case in point: Third down throws against the blitz were around 75 percent conversion rate. Also note: On the TD run by Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca blocked two Broncos, lol.

Denver linebacker Ian Gold paid Pittsburgh the ultimate compliment:

"We did not complete the mission and it's frustrating," linebacker Ian Gold said. "But anytime you make it to the AFC Championship Game and you lose, you hope to lose to a team like that."

Pittsburgh is playing monster ball, right now – unprecedented, really. They've beaten the 1, 2 and 3 seeds to advance – first time that's ever been done. And, it's the first time a 6 seed has ever advanced to the Super Bowl. Quite fitting that it's Super Bowl XL! Super Bowl Xtra-Large...for the way they're playing, lol.

And…western PA is going crazy with Steeler fever, lol.

Restaurants were sending people home because of no customers; TV stations were showing shots of the malls and stores, with streets looking like ghost towns, lol! Everyone was home watching the game, or with friends and fans at sports bars.

Non-residents of PA seem stunned at the loyalty of the fans. One writer said this, after the game:

And all those loyal Pittsburgh fans! An estimated 8,000 came to Denver and they stayed well after the game, waving their Terrible Towels in the corner of Denver's Invesco Field until security finally had to ask them to leave…

Is it any surprise that one guy in a sports bar had a heart attack last week when Bettis fumbled against Indy? Or that another guy last year asked to be laid out in a recliner with a brew in hand, “watching” Pittsburgh highlights? These people take it seriously!

Growing up in western PA, going to school, teachers actually gave extra credit points for students who wore black and gold during the playoffs. I kinda resented that, then. I thought grades should be earned. But looking back, I just laugh and shake my head.

I called my mother before the game and said,

“Mom, just checking in to see if you are gonna watch the game.” And she said, “Yes.”

Then she said, “Loy, you wouldn’t believe it, but I wore black and gold to church today!”

And I laughed. Then I acted shocked and said, “Mom! What’s this world coming to, whenever a fine, upstanding Christian lady like yourself wears professional football colors to the house of the Lord? Why, it’s almost idolatry!”

And she laughed again and said, “Oh, I blame this on my three sons for making me a football fan!” And I laughed, because there wasn’t much I could say to that.

The she said, ‘But if they play like they did last week, I might not make it through the game.” Then she put the pressure on me. She said, “If I didn’t make it and had to be laid out, would you boys come to my funeral or watch the game?”

And I said, “Oh, mom! I’m not gonna say I would ever choose a football game over you I’ll be there…! But…don’t be surprised if somehow there's a large screen TV at the wake!”

And she laughed like a little girl, lol!

And she said, “Loy, you are so bad!” And I laughed, too.

Then she said, “I might just end up getting up out of the casket for that one.” And I said, “Yeah, you’d probably get up and walk on water, too, if they won!”

And she laughed and said, “Now you are being bad, so I have to go!”

So I let her go to watch the football game – but it just gives a flavor of the fever in Steeler country!

I’ve been driving around with a football in the passenger seat of my truck, lol. And, p.s. – It’s gonna stay there through the Super Bowl, too. But I’m not superstitious or anything, lol! I just like football!

All together now: “Pittsburgh’s goin’ to ‘da Super Bowl!”

Go Steelers!


Friday, January 20, 2006

A mystic power at Gettysburg

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

By Nancy Roberts

This story is about a moment when the choice of one road over another was critical to the future of a nation, when the guidance seen by an entire regiment of men was so bizarre that it can only have come from the realm of the supernatural.

On July 1, 1863, the Twentieth Maine under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and Colonel Adelbert Ames’s brigade were heading north from Maryland into Pennsylvania to repel Lee’s invasion. Above the marching men, smoke-colored dust billowed and drifted as their column wound along-a solid mass of dark and light blue punctuated by the steely glint of rifles. Infantrymen helped themselves to the large sweet cherries beside the road as they passed through lush green Maryland farm country with knee-high corn and ripening grain.

Leaving the sometimes hostile state of Maryland and crossing into Pennsylvania, the drum corps struck up “Yankee Doodle,” but the inhabitants behind their roadside stands selling bread, milk, cakes, and pies did not respond to this patriotic gesture. Seeing this, many of the hungry men, outraged at the prices, began to help themselves.

“Thieving Rebels!” angry vendors shouted at them. It was the worst insult they could think of. The Union troops ignored them. But the farther north they went, the friendlier people became and the lower the prices.

Nearing Hanover, Pennsylvania, that afternoon, they had a shock. All around lay dead horses and Union cavalrymen with eyes staring upward as though they had seen a sight too horrible to tell. What had happened? Confederate general Jeb Stuart had been through here with a large force of cavalry and skirmished briefly as he passed. The audacious Stuart, emerging from the Blue Ridge Mountains, had galloped boldly around the entire Federal army, past its right flank, proceeding to sever all telegraph lines linking General Meade to his high headquarters in Washington.

Late that afternoon a tired Colonel Chamberlain and his men bivouacked just outside Hanover, and the colonel sat alone, grateful for fresh bread and milk from one of the vendors. What a surprising life he was leading! A graduate of a theological seminary, his only training in supervision had been to run a Sunday school and teach at Bowdoin College. Now thirty-three, he saw soldiering as a romantic adventure. It was downright un-Christian for a man trained for the ministry, he thought with some chagrin.

Watching curiously as a rider, his horse lathered, rode up to brigade commander Ames, he knew it was bad news. The First and Eleventh Corps had run into Lee at a town to the west called Gettysburg. General Reynolds had been killed, and Confederates had pursued the First Corps into town. Union soldiers not taken prisoner were dug in on some hills on the Hanover side of Gettysburg waiting for help. In July, 1863, there were only twenty-four hundred residents in Gettysburg, but the little town was at the center of a network of ten important roads – two leading west to passes in South Mountain, others to Harrisburg, Baltimore, and nearby towns. Some were meandering farm roads rambling over ridges or encircling the bases of scattered granite hills.

Shoving the rest of the homemade bread in his haversack, Chamberlain ordered his tired men to break camp and march. Gettysburg was a dozen miles to the west. In three days – from July 1 to July 3, 1863 – more than one hundred seventy thousand men would shoot, knife, grapple, and kill each other here until pools of blood stood in the small depressions upon the rocks.

Chamberlain himself rode at the head of the column, his well-muscled body erect, a striking man with finely shaped head and classic profile, his dashing moustache swept back from the upper lip. Overhead, the moon rose, and when it was not concealed by the clouds, both soldiers and the Pennsylvania countryside were washed in pale golden light. Along winding, rutted roads, through forests, across fields, and past an occasional farm house, they marched in silence.

And if the minds of these men from Maine sometimes turned homeward, it was to dream of white farm houses and coastal villages, gulls wheeling over blue water and stony shores, fishing boats bobbing on tossing waves, sequestered forests with axes ringing in the cold winter dawn, oxen and stocky farm horses laboring to drag gleaming plow blades through stony earth, and the scent of lilacs in the spring. Spurs constantly led off the road the two colonels had agreed was the most direct. But finally, when they knew they must be getting close to Gettysburg, they came to what appeared to be an important fork. Here the Twentieth Maine halted while the officers debated over which direction to take.

Suddenly the clouds parted, and the moon shone down upon a horseman wearing a bright coat and tricorn hat. Mounted on a magnificent pale horse, he cantered down one of the roads branching off before them. Turning slightly toward them, he waved them to follow.

In his later report Chamberlain described the event.

“At a turn of the road a staff officer, with an air of authority, told each colonel as he came up, ‘General McClellan is in command again, and he’s riding up ahead of us on the road.’

“Men waved their hats, cheered until they were hoarse, and, wild with excitement, followed the figure on horseback. Although weary, they marched with a miraculous enthusiasm believing that their beloved general had returned to lead them into battle.”

Soon an awed murmur began to travel from one man to another, back through the ranks of troops. Now a different name was heard.

“It’s Washington!” exclaimed the men to each other, passing the magic name along. “General Washington himself come to lead us!” And they followed.

The very air was charged with energy and confidence. Although they had no foreknowledge of where they were going or how the land lay, Chamberlain and his Twentieth Maine were on their way to one of the most strategic positions in the coming battle.

When Chamberlain’s men arrived at the edge of a wheatfield, they waited, gathered for instructions. Before them the woods were a fearful sight. They seemed to roar as smoke and fiery bursts of light hovered over treetops. Beneath the men’s feet the ground shuddered from bursts of artillery.

Meanwhile Union general Gouverneur K. Warren had ridden to the summit of a hill called Little Round Top. It was a large granite outcropping, and he found it completely undefended. Gazing down at the land around him with the eye of a military engineer and strategist, Warren foresaw its importance. On impulse he sent word to a battery below to fire a shot into the woods. It had its effect. The projectile above the trees caused the ranks of Confederates who were concealed in the forest to look up. When they did, their shifting bayonets caught the rays of the sun and reflected hundreds of flashes of light visible to the Union general.

General Warren thought about the line in Byron’s poem about the Assyrians: “And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea when the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.”

He was badly shocked by the enemy’s numbers. So long was the Confederate battle line that it could easily outflank the Union left. It would enable General Longstreet and his men to capture Little Round Top. Warren saw the hill as the key to victory. He immediately sent for help, and Colonel Chamberlain’s men were in the ideal position to respond quickly.

There was no easy approach to this ugly rock-strewn mound of stone called Little Round Top. Colonel Strong Vincent started toward the northwest slope, but he found the rock side too rough to mount. He and Chamberlain stood the base of the hill, conferred, and decided to go up through some woods. Vincent, followed by Chamberlain, began scrambling up the incline. By now the Confederates realized what was happening and were sweeping the lower part of the hill with artillery fire…

First to charge the Twentieth Maine was the 4th Alabama – lean, fierce men crouched among the rocks. The smoke of their gunfire spread across the Twentieth Maine’s entire front. No sooner had the attack begun than a lieutenant spied a mass of Confederates vastly outnumbering the Twentieth Maine advancing toward their flank. It was to be only the first of a multitude of tactical problems they would have.

The great dilemma came in less than two hours. The Twentieth Maine had only sixty rounds per man. They had fired almost every round, and for a short time there was a lull. Colonel Chamberlain stood off alone thinking. His men would be slaughtered here…and so would he.

Meanwhile, across the valley, a Confederate soldier saw the solitary Union officer with a flowing black mustache standing just behind the center of the lines of the Twentieth Maine. From the man’s demeanor, the Confederate knew he must be either the general or an extremely important commander. To steady his rifle the sold rested his rifle upon a large rock. Viewing his human target over the sights, he took aim, but when he started to pull the trigger he felt a strange reluctance to kill the man. He sighted again. This time he was determined to shoot. Once more, to his bewilderment, he was unable to squeeze the trigger.

Now disaster was only minutes away for the Twentieth Maine, and all down the line men’s hoarse, frantic voices shouted, “Ammunition! For God’s sake! Ammunition!

Hastily they began to search the bodies around them on the ground. They stripped cartridge boxes off the dead and dying and tore them open in their haste. But there was not enough. Men who had fired their last rounds turned desperately to Chamberlain, who had been considering the alternatives. Ordered to hold the ground at all costs, they could not withdraw. There just wasn’t any good option. Then this colonel, who seemed to have a talent for doing the impossible, stepped forward.

Only surprise might work. The men of the Twentieth Maine heard his commanding voice ring out above the sounds of battle.

“Fix Bayonets! Charge!”

Shocked, for a long, tense moment they didn’t move – fishermen, farmers, woodsmen, just ordinary men. They hesitated as men do when facing incredible odds, possibly death. Would they obey?

Suddenly, an imposing figure stood in front of the line, exhorting them to follow. The rays of the afternoon sun set his upraised sword aflame. Once more the Twentieth Maine was seized by the same exultation they had felt following the phantom horseman on the road to Little Round Top Round Top. He was leading them again! Inspired by supernatural bravery they plunged down the hill thrusting their bayonets into the ranks of the amazed Alabamians. Bewildered, the Confederates had no time to fire a decisive volley, and as they fell back their line broke. In spite of courage, weapons, and superior numbers, they fled.

Chamberlain and his Twentieth Maine had performed one of the miracles of the war. Seldom in the annals of history has there been a more baffling defeat.

John Pullen, author of The Twentieth Maine, describes it best when he says,

“To find any parallel, it would almost be necessary to go back to Second Kings, 7:3, wherein the four leprous men said to one another, ‘Why sit we here until we die?’ Then they rose up and advanced into the camp of the Syrians, the Lord at the proper moment causing the Syrians to hear ‘a noise of chariots and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host,’ so that the Syrians all fled for their lives.”

When General Joshua Chamberlain was an old man, an interviewer asked him, “Is there any truth to the story that your men saw the figure of George Washington leading them at Gettysburg?”

Chamberlain gazed thoughtfully out of the window of his home across the Maine fields, and there was a long pause. Then he nodded.

“Yes, that report was circulated through our lines, and I have no doubt that it had a tremendous psychological effect in inspiring the men. Doubtless it was a superstition, but who among us can say that such a thing was impossible? We have not yet sounded or explored the immortal life that lies out beyond the Bar.

“We know not what mystic power may be possessed by those who are now bivouacking with the dead. I only know the effect, but I dare not explain or deny the cause. I do believe that we were enveloped by the powers of the other world that day and who shall say that Washington was lot among the number of those who aided the country that he founded?”


Excerpted from Nancy Roberts, “A Mystic Power at Gettysburg,” Civil War Ghost Stories and Legends (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992), 60-70. Note: Nancy is an elegant writer, as witnessed by this piece. She is faithful to the original documents and sensitive to the subject material. She has impressed me with her work, and I’ll be sharing more from her in the future, hopefully.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The wedding at Cana

The power to follow the vision

Alyosha Karamazov experienced the deepest trial of his faith at the loss of his dear starets, the elder Zossima, whom he loved more than life. Zossima was so holy and so esteemed that Alyosha just knew a great miracle would occur after his death: surely the body of Zossima would remain incorruptible, like great saints of the past! Surely great miracles of healing and renewal would flow from this broken body! But alas, dear Zossima died and the miracles did not come. Zossima decayed, and many of the lesser monks mocked openly – in life they envied Zossima; in death they took false pleasure. Alyosha was crushed beyond imagination. He was numb, and in this low state temptation comes. Ratikan, a sell-out monk, leads Alyosha to Grushenka, the beautiful, fallen and so-seductive Greshenka. The plan is to ruin his virtue in the hour of his greatest trial. But God uses the temptation in a remarkable way: instead of falling to seduction, Alyosha endures the temptation and enobles Grushenka. He treats her as a child of God, a sister in Christ. Renewed, he goes back to the monastery where he takes up the death watch by the man whom he loved. As he takes his place of loyal grief, something strange happens. The brothers began to read from the gospels, of the wedding at Cana of Galilee – of all Scriptures! And then, mysteriously, mystically, Alyosha finds his miracle! I won’t ruin the miracle for you…I’ll let you read it for yourself. But it is beyond profound. I relay it here, for all who have experienced the deep night of the soul; for all who have experienced temptation, the deep trial of faith, yet have returned to their post of duty; for all who have been touched by the calling; for all who have seen the great vault of heaven open in the Spirit, and been unashamed of its ecstasy; for all who have seen the Milky Way run like two great streams in the night sky, dancing before God from zenith to horizon, and have kissed the morning dew upon the grass, reborn after great trial, and sent out into the world to follow the call as a stranger and pilgrim, sharing the new hope of Christ as the power of His vision passes into your soul…this story is for you! May you be renewed in the reading!

IT WAS VERY LATE, according to monastery order, when Alyosha returned to the hermitage; the door keeper let him in by a special entrance. It had struck nine o’clock—the hour of rest and repose after a day of such agitation for all. Alyosha timidly opened the door and went into the elder’s cell where his coffin was now standing. There was no one in the cell but Father Païssy, reading the Gospel in solitude over the coffin, and the young novice Porfiry, exhausted by the previous night’s conversation and the disturbing incidents of the day, was sleeping the deep, sound sleep of youth on the floor of the other room. Though Father Païssy heard Alyosha come in, he did not even look in his direction. Alyosha turned to the right from the door to the corner, fell on his knees, and began to pray.

His soul was overflowing but with mingled feelings; no single sensation stood out distinctly; on the contrary, one drove out another in a slow, contin­ual rotation. But there was a sweetness in his heart and, strange to say, Alyosha was not surprised at it. Again he saw that coffin before him, the hidden, dead figure so precious to him, but the weeping and poignant grief of the morning was no longer aching in his soul. As soon as he came in, he fell down before the coffin as before a holy shrine; but joy, joy, was glowing in his mind and in his heart. The one window of the cell was open, the air was fresh and cool. “So the smell must have become stronger, if they opened the window,” thought Alyosha. But even this thought of the smell of corruption, which had seemed to him so awful and humiliating a few hours before, no longer made him feel miserable or indignant. He began praying quietly, but he soon felt that he was praying almost mechanically. Fragments of thought floated through his soul, flashed like stars, and went out again at once, to be succeeded by others. Yet there was reigning in his soul a sense of the wholeness of things—something steadfast and comforting—and he was aware of it himself. Sometimes he be­gan praying ardently; he longed to pour out his thankfulness and love…

But when he had begun to pray, he passed suddenly to something else and sank into thought, forgetting both the prayer and what had interrupted it. He began listening to what Father Païssy was reading, but worn out with exhaus­tion he gradually began to doze.

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee;” read Father Païssy. “And the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage."

“Marriage? What’s that…A marriage!” floated whirling through Alyosha’s mind. “There is happiness for her, too…She has gone to the feast…No, she has not taken the knife…That was only a tragic phrase…Well tragic phrases should be forgiven, they must be. Tragic phrases comfort the heart…without them, sorrow would be too heavy for men to bear. Rakitin has gone off to the back-alley. As long as Rakitin broods over his wrongs, he will always go off to the back-alley…But the high road…the road is wide and straight and bright as crystal, and the sun is at the end of it…Oh, what’s being read?…”

‘‘And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, ‘They have no wine’…Alyosha heard.

“Ah, yes, I was missing that, and I didn’t want to miss it, I love that pas­sage; it’s Cana of Galilee, the first miracle…Ah, that miracle! Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men’s grief but their joy Christ visited; He worked His first miracle to help men’s gladness…‘He who loves men loves their gladness, too…’ he was always repeating that, it was one of his leading ideas…‘There’s no living without joy,’ Mitya says…Yes, Mitya…‘Everything that is true and good is always full of forgiveness,’ he used to say that, too…”

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what has it to do with thee or me? Mine hour is not yet come.

“His mother saith unto the servants: Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it…”

“Do it…Gladness, the gladness of some poor, very poor, people…Of course they were poor, since they hadn’t wine enough even at a wedding…The histo­rians write that in those days the people living about the Lake of Gennesaret were the poorest that can possibly be imagined…and another great heart, that other great being, His mother, knew that He had come not only to make His great terrible sacrifice. She knew that His heart was open even to the simple, artless merrymaking of some obscure and unlearned people, who had warmly bidden Him to their poor wedding. ‘Mine hour is not yet come,’ He said, with a soft smile. (He must have smiled gently to her.) And indeed was it to make wine abundant at poor weddings He had come down to earth? And yet He went and did as she asked Him…Ah, he is reading again…”

“Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

“And he saith unto them, Draw out now and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

“When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine and knew not whence it was (but the servants which drew the water knew), the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

“And saith unto him: Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, that which is worse; but thou hast kept the good wine until now.”

“But what’s this, what’s this? Why is the room growing wider?…Ah, yes…It’s the marriage, the wedding…yes, of course. Here are the guests, here is the young couple sitting, and the merry crowd and…Where is the wise governor of the feast? But who is this? Who? Again the walls are receding…Who is getting up there from the great table? What!…He here, too? But he’s in the coffin…but he’s here, too. He has stood up, he sees me, he is coming here…Oh, God!”

Yes, he went up to him—to him—he, the little, thin old man, with tiny wrinkles on his face, joyful and laughing softly. There was no coffin now, and he was in the same dress as he had worn yesterday sitting with them, when the visitors had gathered about him. His face was uncovered, his eyes were shining. How was this then, he too had been called to the feast. He too at the marriage of Cana in Galilee…

“Yes, my dear, I am called too, called and bidden,” he heard a soft voice saying over him. “Why have you hidden yourself here, out of sight? You come and join us too.”

It was his voice, the voice of Father Zossima. And it must be he, since he called him!

The elder raised Alyosha by the hand, and he rose from his knees.

“We are rejoicing,” the little, thin old man went on. “We are drinking the new wine, the wine of new, great gladness; do you see how many guests? Here are the bride and bridegroom, here is the wise governor of the feast, he is tast­ing the new wine. Why do you wonder at me? I gave an onion to a beggar, so I too am here. And many here have given only an onion each—only one little onion…What are all our deeds? And you, my gentle one, you, my kind boy, you too have known how to give a famished woman an onion today. Begin your work, dear one, begin it, gentle one!…Do you see our Sun, do you see Him?”

“I am afraid…I dare not look,” whispered Alyosha.

“Do not fear Him. He is terrible in His greatness, awful in His sublimity, but infinitely merciful. He has made Himself like unto us from love and re­joices with us. He is changing the water into wine so that the gladness of the guests may not be cut short. He is expecting new guests; He is calling new ones unceasingly forever and ever…There they are bringing new wine. Do you see they are bringing the vessels…”

Something glowed in Alyosha’s heart, something filled it till it ached, tears of rapture rose from his soul…He stretched out his hands, uttered a cry and awoke.

Again the coffin, the open window, and the soft, solemn, distinct reading of the Gospel. But Alyosha did not listen to the reading. It was strange, he had fallen asleep on his knees, but now he was on his feet, and suddenly, as though thrown forward, with three firm rapid steps he went right up to the coffin. His shoulder brushed against Father Païssy without his noticing it. Father Païssy raised his eyes for an instant from his book, but looked away again at once, seeing that something strange was happening to the boy. Alyosha gazed for half a minute at the coffin, at the covered, motionless dead man that lay in the coffin, with the ikon on his breast and the peaked cap with the octangular cross on his head. He had only just been hearing his voice, and that voice was still ringing in his ears. He was listening, still expecting other words, but sud­denly he turned sharply and went out of the cell.

He did not stop on the steps either, but went quickly down; his soul, over­flowing with rapture, yearned for freedom, space, openness. The vault of heaven, full of soft, shining stars, stretched vast and fathomless above him. The Milky Way ran in two pale streams from the zenith to the horizon. The fresh, motionless, still night enfolded the earth. The white towers and golden domes of the cathedral gleamed out against the sapphire sky. The gorgeous au­tumn flowers in the beds round the house were slumbering till morning. The silence of earth seemed to melt into the silence of the heavens. The mystery of earth was one with the mystery of the stars.

Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly threw himself down on the earth. He did not know why he embraced it. He could not have told why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss it all. But he kissed it weeping, sobbing, and wa­tering it with his tears and vowed passionately to love it, to love it forever and ever. “Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears,’’ echoed in his soul.

What was he weeping over?

Oh! in his rapture he was weeping even over those stars, which were shin­ing at him from the abyss of space, and “he was not ashamed of that ecstasy.” There seemed to be threads from all those innumerable worlds of God, linking his soul to them, and it was trembling all over “in contact with other worlds.” He longed to forgive everyone for everything, and to beg forgiveness—oh not for himself but for all men, for all and for everything. “And others are praying for me too,” echoed again in his soul. But with every instant he felt clearly and, as it were, tangibly, that something firm and unshakable as that vault of heaven had entered into his soul. It was as though some idea had seized the sovereignty of his mind –– and it was for all his life and forever and ever. He had fallen on the earth a weak boy, but he rose up a resolute champion, and he knew and felt it suddenly at the very moment of his ecstasy. And never, never, all his life long, could Alyosha forget that minute.

“Someone visited my soul in that hour,” he used to say afterwards, with implicit faith in his words.

Within three days he left the monastery in accordance with the words of his elder, who had bidden him “sojourn in the world.’’


Selected from Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, "The Gospel in Dostoyevsky," Illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg, edited by the Bruderhof. Reprinted from Copyright 2004 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A truly great football game

The Immaculate Tackle

I just love the game of football. Whether playing, coaching or watching, to see the game played as it is supposed to be played is a thrill, a joy. It brings back those fall days in western PA, drawing up plays on the ground and running through the fallen leaves to touchdown glory. Or, in throwing the perfect pass downfield, hitting a receiver in stride. In the inimitable words of Dan Marino: "There's no defense for the perfect pass!"

With the joy of football in my veins, I just have to talk about Sunday's game between the Steelers and Colts. What a game!

Pittsburgh definitely showed up to play football. There was a lot of talk before the game about how Pittsburgh didn't stand a chance against Peyton and the boys. All my Indiana friends were talking trash, and all the talking heads on TV were pretty much in agreement: Pittsburgh was going to lose, the only question was by how much, lol. The Las Vegas line was around 10 points -- which just goes to show how much the bookies were willing to put their money on the line that Pittsburgh was gonna get creamed!

Well, excuse me, but "sudden slip between the cup and lip" and all that, lol.

Pittsburgh arrived and smashed Indy in the mouth: A perfect offensive game plan and a manly defensive game plan, I must say. The Steeler defense took full advantage of Peyton's dummy calls and late adjustments at the line of scrimmage...disguising their blitzes and coverages, showing one thing and switching off at the last second, showing the very same thing on the next play and then keeping was masterful.

But, as neat as the entire game was, the ending is something that will stick in Pittsburgh lore for years to come. Not since the ancient "Immaculate Reception" has a game reflected so much destiny and so little probability!

The weirdness started with about 5:26 left in the game.

Pittsburgh was leading by 11 points, and the Colts were in hurry-up offense, desperately driving, trying to score and get back in the game. Peyton dropped back to pass and tried to connect with Reggie Wayne in the middle of the field. But Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu dove in and picked it off: an awesome, athletic interception. His momentum carried him to the turf, where he rolled over and then jumped up to run. But as he jumped up to run, his left knee came up and knocked the ball out of his own hands. Instead of running for a TD, now he simply had to fall on the ball and cover it for possession. The ref tossed the beanbag for a fumble: Pittsburgh ball! Ruling on the field: Interception and fumble recovery, Pittsburgh ball. Game over.

All Pittsburgh had to do was run out the clock, sit on the ball and nurse their 11 point lead. Everyone in the football world knew: game over.

But wait!

Indy coach Tony Dungy threw the challenge flag...hoping that the replay would show no possession by Troy [therefore incomplete pass and still Colt ball]. And really, it was the only thing he could do! It was a wise coaching move, but everyone knew: it was an interception. There was no way in Hades that this call was getting overturned. Sorry, Dungy -- nice guy and all, but replays were beyond clear: Troy had possession and only lost the ball as he got up to run, knocking it out of his own hands.

Pittsburgh players celebrated on the sideline. They knew!

But then, inexplicably, referee Pete Morelli came back on the field...he mumbled some incoherent stuff about the right knee being on the ground while left knee knocked the ball out, therefore, voila! Indy ball. Just like that, a magic hat new life for Indy! No interception, no harm no foul!

I was stunned. Simply, no other way to put it...stunned. I couldn't believe my eyes.

In all my football years, I've never seen something so clear be suddenly erased. But there it was: Colts ball and new life, and this time they made it count. Three plays and a TD. Then a two-point conversion. Just like that, three-point ball game!

From being out of the game and out of the playoffs, to three points down with plenty of time left! Now that is something...

In the back of my mind, I'm thinking: "How much are the bookies paying this guy?"

But wait! The weirdness was just starting.

The Colts defense forced Pittsburgh to punt on the ensuing possession, and the punt went into the endzone. So Indy was starting on their own 20 yard line, with around 2:45 left in the ball game. Plenty of time! All they needed was a field goal to tie and a TD to win. And, give that offense 2:45 and shoot! In the Colts' minds, they were thinking TD, not field goal.

But the Pittsburgh D had gas left in the tank, lol! They forced Peyton into short, bad throws and sacked him twice: double sacks by Joey Porter, and see ya later at the two yard line! Butt-kicking time, says Porter, lol. Ball goes over on downs to Pitt.

Game over.

1:20 left, Pittsburgh first down on the two yard line.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yep. Hand off to "The Bus" and ride into the AFC Championship with a 10 point win.

But wait! Are you ready for the ultimate weird ending?

Jerome "The Bus" Bettis takes the handoff, and as he turns to the endzone, LB Gary Brackett smashes his helmet against the ball. The ball pops up in the air, is caught on a bounce by Colt cornerback Nick Harper. Fumble return!

Again, I couldn't believe my eyes. Horror of horrors, what was this?

Harper is racing for a one to stop him! Tragic ending for Pittsburgh!

But wait! Out of nowhere is Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh QB. He stumbles, falls over himself trying to stop Harper...falling backward he reaches out a right arm and catches his right knee. It was just enough. It tripped up Nick at the 42 yard line. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburg Post-Gazatte relays the action well:

Linebacker Gary Brackett slammed into Bettis and put his helmet on the ball. The man who rarely fumbles fumbled for the first time this season.

The ball popped backward. Cornerback Nick Harper, playing with three stitches in his right knee where his wife allegedly stabbed him Saturday, picked it up. He had one man to beat to run 93 yards for the go-ahead touchdown -- Roethlisberger.

Now this story is layers of bizarre, isn't it? Nick Harper was just out of the hospital emergency department with an inch deep stab wound in his right knee, inflicted by his wife. Some people say he couldn't have been tackled has his knee been 100 percent! Bizarre, huh?

[Mini-moral of the story: Guys, treat your wives well or it could cost you like you never know, lol.]

But now, here it is, Indy ball at the 42, three time outs left, all the time in the world to move into field goal range...tie the game and go into overtime, at home, with all the momentum. They quickly moved into field goal range at the 28 yard line and then went for the TD. Only an awesome defensive play by Steeler cornerback Bryant McFadden kept Wayne from catching the TD.

But that was no problem for Indy. They merely called on their kicker, Mike Vanderjagt, to kick the 46 yard field and send it to overtime. This is the guy, mind you, by his own admission, is the best kicker in the NFL! The most accurate kicker in the NFL to make what for him is a chip shot field goal...

You guessed it.

He missed.

He not only missed the field goal, but missed it by about 3 goal post lengths!

All those crazy, weird things that seemed to hand the game to the Colts...nope! The day belonged to Pittsburgh. And not the refs or the other team could take it away.

Add up the probabilities:

  • Troy Polamalu's interception being mysteriously overturned.
  • The multiple sacks and over on downs at the 2.
  • The fumble by Bettis at the 2 [the guy who never fumbles].
  • The recovery and run by Nick Harper [the very guy with the stabbed knee].
  • The improbable tackle by Roethlisberger.
  • The defensive play by McFadden to save the TD.
  • The missed field goal by Vanderjagt.
All in the last 5:26 of the game!

But, game over. Pittsburgh win. And well-fought. A truly great football game!

They'll be talking about this game in Pittsburgh for years to come -- those last five, thrilling minutes, a "wild finish made of missed opportunities, gut-wrenching twists and one unimaginable, tide-turning play after another." From the Immaculate Reception to the Immaculate Tackle!

After the game I thought about the man who passed away last year...and left orders that he was to be laid out in a recliner, with a remote in one hand, brew in the other "watching" Pittsburgh Steeler highlights on a big-screen TV.

Yes, they'll be talking about this for years in western PA!

Hines Ward: "It went from an all-time high to an all-time low back to an all-time high."

And speaking to the mysterious, overturned interception, Joey Porter had someting to say:

"I felt they were cheating us. When the interception happened, everybody in the world knew that was an interception. Don't cheat us that bad. [I felt] when they did that, they really want Peyton Manning and these guys to win the Super Bowl. They are just going to straight take it for them. I felt that they were like 'We don't even care if you know we're cheating. We're cheating for them.' "

"The way the refs were going, I wouldn't have trusted them in overtime," Porter told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "If we hadn't won, they would have cheated us in overtime."

No doubt Porter will be fined for those comments, but he only said what many people other way to explain some of the calls. Especially with the benefit of slow motion, every-angle replay. Following the game, NFL Today analysts Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe and Dan Marino actually said on air that it would have been the greatest robbery of all time had the Colts been granted the win.

True that. Just to show how blatant the overturned interception was, the league came out Monday and admitted the "mistake." Which happens about as often as Islamic terrorists have a conscience! Mike Pereira, the league's vice president of officiating, issued a statement saying that Morelli should have let the call on the field stand.

"He maintained possession long enough to establish a catch," Pereira said.

"Therefore, the replay review should have upheld the call on the field that it was a catch and fumble."

The craziness was summed pretty well by Ben Roethlisberger:

"It's one of those things that once in a blue moon Jerome fumbles, and once in a blue moon I'm going to make that tackle."

And once in a blue moon to see a game like this! :-)

Great game...a truly great game.

Enough to give a person football fever!

Go Steelers! :-)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A heavenly ghost story

I heard his music

I heard his music, as if I was hearing music for the first time.

My hands felt heart-drawn to make music, and my soul danced with the tune. It was the perfect mingling of joy and sorrow – sorrow redeemed. The soul that made that music, oh! I entered the music and found worship there…something indescribable, indefinable and pure. I closed my eyes and bowed my head...

Then I glanced behind me and there he was, seated to one side with a slight smile on his face, glowing and healthy, full color. I had never seen a ghost before. But if this was a ghost, where was the fear? I was seeing a brother in Christ.

Surprise is not the word. Perhaps the music prepared me: seeing his soul in the music I felt no shock at his form.

I addressed him first, with the first words in my mind. “How is it in heaven?” I asked. He gave a smile and some reply of its beauty. Then I asked him, “What are the relationships like there?” He had begun to fade, but when I asked this question he became animated: “Oh, if I could tell you!” he said. “Relations there are everything relation was meant to be.”

He was caught in the rapture of the relations. Perhaps they reflected the fulfillment of his earthly music? Then he paused. “But we are at war, you know,” he said, with a touch of sadness.

I felt the rebuke in those gentle words. My breath caught, and I answered, “Yes, I know.” What else could I say?

He continued: “Every day there is silence in heaven and the angels are drawn to the ramparts, looking down on earth.” “Here we know the seriousness of battle. But there is a pause before heaven’s arrows are loosed, and in that moment of stillness the anointing of heaven is poured down to individual souls, as droplets of inner gold, pure grace.”

And here he grew thoughtful, almost sad. “But sometimes that anointing is only for a few souls, two or three out of all the earth’s need.”

And then I understood: the anointing of heaven depended on the prayers of the children. Heaven wanted to give so much more, as prelude to victorious battle!

Then the full rebuke in those words fell on me. “But we are at war, you know.”

My mind went to all the times I wanted to pretend that this life was a holiday, a place to rest and receive accolades and peace. My mind went to all the times where my prayers didn’t request the grace of heaven for others caught in the battle.

The reproach entered my soul not as condemnation, but as a gentle, chiding awareness. Such is the breath of heaven…

I awoke, and in the awakening further awareness came: true music is a weapon of heaven, a prayer, a worshipful, healing balm. Children at worship are children at war, calling down grace in the music of heaven, healing for souls in battle.

And so I write this story with a moral, for those who are called.

And I pray to live the moral!

God grant that I will request heaven’s anointing for the souls on my heart before I sleep again. And that I purpose to let heaven declare my holidays, from this time on, for the glory of the kingdom and the healing of His beautiful daughters and sons…

And may that grace be poured on those I love and those He loves before this night is through!



Monday, January 09, 2006

Ladies: Beware of cop impersonators!

Ok, ok…the official word is in: My mother found out about the “Does this make my bum look big?” article, and now I’m in trouble, lol. Her official word on the subject: “Loy, that is so mean!” But I got a laugh, too, so maybe it isn’t so bad. :-)

However, I still may need some brownie points, so here is a public service announcement for female readers: recent statistics reveal that cop impersonation is on the rise.

1,000 cases of crooks posing as police

Some police impersonators are relatively harmless, just flashing a fake badge to get out of a ticket.
Others, though, use their badges to pull over and harass women.
Or rape them.
Some shake down immigrants for cash.
Still others prey on children.

Throughout the Chicago area, more than 1,000 such incidents have been reported in the past three years. Law enforcement officials suspect many police impersonator crimes are never reported because the victims are too afraid or confused about what happened.

Sunday’s Chicago Sun-Times reveals a disturbing trend of criminals using badges and uniforms. Rapists, robbers and wannabes flash badges at traffic stops and at the front door, perpetrating crime with fake credentials.

Amazingly enough, there have been 1,000 reported cases in Illinois alone during the last three years!

This rise is attributed to the ease with which criminals can now purchase badges online. In fact, the concern is so great that Illinois recently passed legislation making it a crime to purchase police badges on the internet.

Breaking down the statistics over the last three years, it averages out to almost 1 fake-cop incident per day in Illinois alone! When I saw the article, I was somewhat shocked. This is a lot, I thought. But then my mind when to a time where I was “pulled over” by a friend as a joke, and I realized just how quickly this kind of thing can happen: If it is dusk or a little dark out, and markings can’t be easily seen, it is far too easy to flash a light or a badge and create vulnerable situations for citizens.

The implications are troubling, especially for women. And the lessons should be well-taken:

  • Familiarize yourself with the pattern of state and local police lights.
  • If you are on a lonely stretch of highway and the flashing lights don’t fit that pattern, don’t pull over.
  • If you are pulled over by anyone that acts suspicious, drive to the nearest police station, fire department or public building, obeying all traffic laws if possible.
  • If you are on foot and a person flashes a badge at you, asking for privileged information or creating a vulnerable moment, walk quickly toward the nearest crowd or safe context.
  • If an officer is in plain clothes, ask for badge and identification.
  • If stopped by a semi-marked car, ask for identification and keep your door locked.
  • If at home, keep the privacy of your home intact – do not offer information or permit someone in just because of a badge or uniform.

These are just a few ideas, but the main thing is to keep your head about you and be sensitive to warning signals.

And, who knows? This awareness could save you in the future…maybe save a life or valued asset!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Be patient, friend


By Donna Swanson

My soul was heavy
For I’d walked a lonely road
And I was tired.

Then we met,
And you offered me your hand
In loving acceptance.

I’m sorry I missed seeing
You for so long…
That your face was lost in the dark.

But now my eyes are open,
And I can see and know
The wonder of friendship.

You have shown me
That to be fully human, fully alive,
Is to be loving.

And, with all I am
At this moment,
I accept your gift freely.

Be patient, friend,
For this road is new
And disturbingly open.

And if I falter
And seek to draw a shell
Once more around my soul,

Remind me quickly
How much there is to lose
And how much to gain.

Then, someday, somehow,
I’ll find a way to give myself,
And I’ll be whole.

Free to be loved;
Free to love,
A credit to your compassion.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Paring the claws of the Lion of Judah

The taming effect of natural religion

Ever notice how Jesus – the real Jesus I mean – never fits into our easy categories? And yet we try so hard to manage Him, to create a box that will contain Him! We try to define Him in ways that will not challenge our core life. Philip Yancey comments:

The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole Him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among His countrymen, and yet He took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic Law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on His best friend with the flinty rebuke, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed His company.

One day miracles seemed to flow out of Jesus; the next day His power was blocked by people’s lack of faith. One day He talked in detail of the Second Coming; another, He knew neither the day nor hour. He fled from arrest at one point and marched inexorably toward it at another. He spoke eloquently about peacemaking, then told His disciples to procure swords. His extravagant claims about himself kept Him at the center of controversy, but when He did something truly miraculous He tended to hush it up. ‘If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent Him.’

Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable. How is it, then, that the church has tamed such a character -- has, in Dorothy Sayers’ words, “very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah…” [1]

C.S. Lewis has a similar thought, expressed in a powerful passage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this scene, the children are talking to Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about the nature of Aslan, and are surprised to find that he isn’t ‘tame.’

“Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion -- the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he -- quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” [2]

Lewis and Sayers both tap into a truth about the nature of God: He is good, unalterably good – but He is so good that He isn’t safe. He is not safe to our false desires, our false comforts and natural selves…those lesser things which keep us from true intended life. God is not safe concerning evil. Even our managed, comfortable relations and dependencies which seem ‘so good’ to us, in the eyes of the Holy, are shoots for pruning…lesser sprouts which feed away from divine will. And so He approaches these things as ‘a consuming fire.’

And this bothers us!

The human way of natural religion

If we had our way, we’d create a religion where we say the magic words and get our physical bread – just like the followers in John 6. They wanted to make Jesus’ words about bread into physical reality, spiritual words easily managed into physical bread. And when they found He meant something far different [what, you mean ‘I am the bread from heaven’ isn’t physical and manageable bread?], they walked away. One of the saddest verses in Scripture is John 6:66 -- it is the verse of anti-Christ, which shows just how Jesus is denied: to make Him into a manageable producer of physical reality. And this is precisely what Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor says to Jesus:

“Sir, we have improved on You since You left. Now we give the people what they want: physical bread couched in mystery and authority. We no longer need You. In fact, You are no longer welcome in Your church!”

We humans are so open to a manageable God! But the God who offers us a cross, and says, “Follow Me!” -- that is another story.

When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to China in the Sixteenth century, he brought along samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian story for people who had never heard it. The Chinese readily adopted portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but when he produced paintings of the crucifixion and tried to explain that the God-child had grown up only to be executed, the audience reacted with revulsion and horror. They much preferred the Virgin and insisted on worshiping her rather than the crucified God.

As I thumb once more through my stack of Christmas cards, I realize that we in Christian countries do much the same thing. We observe a mellow, domesticated holiday purged of any hint of scandal. Above all, we purge from it any reminder of how the story that began at Bethlehem turned out at Calvary.

In the birth stories of Luke and Matthew, only one person seems to grasp the mysterious nature of what God has set in motion: the old man Simeon, who recognized the baby as the Messiah, instinctively understood that conflict would surely follow. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against…” he said, and then made the prediction that a sword would pierce Mary’s own soul. [3]

“A sword will pierce through your own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

A sword into our natural self/religion

"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit...and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

"And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance was as the sun -- shining in his strength."

Kierkegaard, in one of his brilliant and piercing insights, says something to the effect that until our wills are broken and then turned toward God, we are not Christians, whatever we may call ourselves.

Only a person of will can become a Christian; for only a person of will has a will that can be broken. But a person of will whose will is broken is a Christian. The stronger the natural will, the deeper the break can be and the better the Christian. This is what has been described by the expressive phrase: the new obedience. A Christian is a person of will who no longer wills her own will but with the passion of her crushed will -- radically changed -- wills another's will.

This is a provocative and troubling word, but let me ask: How prophetic is it? Look around you – not even that, look into the mirror – and ask, “What have we done with God? How have we crafted God in accordance with our natural will?”

We’ve turned the Bible into a book of self-actualization, and so we feel free to edit or blatantly disregard it when it doesn’t fit our idea of actualization.

But it is a Word to pierce the heart. It crushes the human will, yet in the process, if permitted, turns it toward the divine heart. The Scriptures are intended as a tool to take us from our natural self, into the true self: re-created in the image of God.

But this is first painful. It is a divine surgery on the human will. It is a cross. And this is scandalous to the natural mind.

And this is the great travesty of modern Christianity. We’ve taken the scandal out of the heart of Christianity, the sword from the hand of Christ…but in the process we’ve turned away from our true intent. We’ve created a comfort-Christianity that promotes the natural self, never realizing that we’ve denied the true self in the process.

We’ve taken the claws from the Lion of Judah.

We want our Christianity like that; we want our pastors like that: de-clawed, polished, slightly obsequious, and spiritually harmless. We want someone to hold our hands and ‘be there,’ but not someone that will change us. We want someone to give us media-driven feel good sermons, but not someone to destroy the natural self. We want someone to tell us that the ‘open door’ is the right door, that the easy road is the ordained road. We want someone to tell us that our natural desires are God’s intended desires…and never demand from us the holy power, the mysterious call.

“Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.”

This is our cultural Christianity.

The only cure is in opening the door to the Lion of Judah, claws and all.

Those claws will sink deep into our natural self…and hurt! But then suddenly revealed in us will be the true self, and then all will be clear. In the words of Thomas Merton, ‘The natural self is the enemy of the true self.’ This is why our God is the enemy of the natural self, and will never be tamed by it…

Thus the Lion of Judah shows that He is our best friend: He destroys what keeps us from our true self, and Him.

Thank God!


Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 23.
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, p. 73ff.
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 33.